Residents living around Barnes Lake in Tumwater have significantly improved the lake’s health during a decadelong fight against nature.
The key to success?
More than 40 years ago, a homeowner introduced the fragrant white water lily near his property. It didn’t take long for the nonnative plant to cover and smother most of the shallow 27-acre lake.
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“It would be solid green,” said Gary Bodeutsch, whose home abuts the private lake. “You could not see the water.”
Bodeutsch now leads a steering committee for the Barnes Lake Management District, which generates about $17,305 annually from 110 properties that border the water. Approved by property owners in 2004, the taxation rate lasts for 30 years and ranges from $96 to about $480 a year, depending on a home’s location and view of the lake.
Before-and-after aerial photos demonstrate the project’s success. Almost 12 years later, the tax money has helped reduce the water lily population while improving the lake’s overall quality.
Studies show that oxygen levels have risen while algae growth and nutrient levels have decreased. The clearer lake has become a more suitable habitat for wildlife including fish, ducks, beaver and otters.
Bodeutsch acknowledged that permanent management of the lake will be necessary, especially if residents want a lake where people can boat, swim and fish as they can now.
“In the battle against Mother Nature, you want it to be on friendly terms,” he said, “but you want it to end a certain way.”
Know the enemy
Topped with white or pink flowers, the fragrant water lily (nymphaea odorata) grows roots that anchor to the lake’s bottom. If left unmanaged, this floating weed can outcompete native vegetation as it spreads across the water.
The fragrant water lily is rated a Class C noxious weed by the Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board. Thurston County already has a higher-than-average distribution of the fragrant water lily — more than 1,000 acres — compared with other counties in the state.
For Barnes Lake, treatment involves spraying about two-thirds of the lake with a state-approved herbicide called glyphosate.
One unexpected side effect of killing the lilies is that the remaining root system eventually rises to the surface in a floating mat of mud that requires removal. And just when the water lily seems to be under control, another invasive nonnative species called swollen bladderwort has started to fill the void.
Without human intervention, Barnes Lake will naturally mature into a swamp. In the meantime, the lake is being filled in with organic matter from water lilies faster that the matter can decompose, according to reports.
Going into battle
Dan Smith, water resources program manager for the city of Tumwater, has served as a liaison for the Barnes Lake community since the project started. The city contributes staff time by managing the taxation district, hosting meetings, and overseeing any contract work or permitting.
However, the effort has been primarily led by a steering committee composed of Barnes Lake residents. In the 1990s, the residents had made a less formal attempt to eradicate the water lily population. Smith said the Barnes Lake Management District has yielded evidence and data that can help the community achieve its goals more effectively. He said 2016’s water test results will be available by the end of November.
“There were a lot of unknowns for us going into this project,” said Smith, noting a general lack of opposition from the community. “It is probably one of the better processes to keep the community engaged instead of having some agency come in.”
Tumwater City Councilman Tom Oliva helped launch the Barnes Lake Management District a few years after moving into his home on the lake in 2000. Barnes Lake was in bad shape at the time, he said, recalling how the water lily had covered all but a small hole of open space in the middle by the end of that summer.
“This lake had been deteriorating for decades,” said Oliva, noting the dramatic difference since the taxation district took effect. “Now in the summertime, the lake is pretty much a clear surface.”
By rallying around a common cause, Barnes Lake residents have set a good example for solving a local problem, Oliva said. He encourages other lakeside communities with a similar problem to follow the lead of Barnes Lake.
“It was really a way of bringing the whole neighborhood together around this lake,” Oliva said. “We preserved the health of the lake.”